Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Good Football in the Darndest Places

Rocky's Winning Touchdown
Originally uploaded by mdt1960.
November 8, 1997 / Byron, Wyoming

The morning before the Wyoming State 2A Championship I found myself in the withering badlands bird hunting with a couple of friends not too far from the small town of Byron. I walked around with these guys and their dogs all morning in the windy, thirty-something degree temperatures. Around noon, I asked them to drop me off in Byron and told them about the hamburger-chili-brownie-pre-game meal. Though not interested in the game, they couldn’t resist the one-dollar meal that fueled them the remainder of the afternoon in their search for a fouler game.

The State 2A championship game between RMHS and Lusk High School started at 1:00 p.m. Though the weather wasn’t conducive to bird hunting, I embraced it at the stadium as I recalled my scant football-playing days in the same conditions. My association with the cool weather has always been with the post-season and is usually when most teams have perfected their game. Shivering as a spectator, I knew the chill in the air would only make this championship game more memorable for those on the gridiron.

Lusk isn’t exactly down the road from Byron. Located due east of Casper near the Nebraska/South Dakota border, I would guess they drove over six hours to contend for the state title in a town that refers to its northern horizon as Montana.

From the coin toss to the last minutes of the game, it exceeded any Super Bowl I'd ever witnessed on TV. Both teams displayed championship poise, talent and finesse. Despite the opening kickoff being returned for a touchdown by Rocky, Lusk answered right back with a touchdown of their own on their first possession. I knew it was going to be a great game. All the elements were right for it—call it good football karma. Each time one side scored the other would turn around and answer with the same result.

At halftime the score was too close to predict the outcome. A bit of gloom came over me as I considered one of these fine teams would walk off the field defeated. Both were deserving of championship status. In the end, it was the Grizzlies of Rocky Mountain High School that prevailed. Superior talent and athletic ability didn’t seem to factor into Rocky’s victory as much as good fortune and a better selection of plays by the coaching staff.

After the game, both teams remained on the field. The Lusk team retreated to the south end zone and when called out, proudly ran to the center of the field to claim their runner-up trophy despite the tears in their eyes. The home fans applauded loudly for them. A big lump grew in my throat and my vision became misty as they galloped out trying to hold their heads high.

Unlike the reporters and cameras in the locker rooms after the Super Bowl, the fans were permitted to walk onto the field after the game and see for themselves—first hand—the disappointment and jubilation found on the faces of each player. This proved to be a more intimate post-game experience—short of donning the helmet and pads myself. The best thing about it was no one had to ask any of those stupid post-game questions—all of the answers were right there in front of us.

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